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Saturday, May 21, 2011
ONLINE FIRST: Eric Rosenthal Reports: ASCO Pre-Meeting Press Briefing Drops Two Studies at Last Minute

BY ERIC T. ROSENTHAL

 

During the introduction to the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual pre-Annual Meeting presscast on Wednesday, Mark G. Kris, MD, Chair of ASCO’s Cancer Communications Committee, announced to the approximately 80 reporters listening in that two of the seven abstracts slated for discussion had been withdrawn.

 

This is the fourth year ASCO has held a pre-meeting press briefing and released its abstracts online (www.abstract.asco.org) to the public prior to the official start of the conference in Chicago (June 3-7).

 

Dr. Kris said that Saundra S. Buys, MD -- of the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute, and principal investigator of the National Cancer Institute-funded Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, Ovarian (PLCO) Screening Trial -- “author of the screening study on ovarian cancer recently informed us that she withdrew from today’s call out of respect for an embargo for an upcoming publication of her manuscript resulting from that abstract, but of course, that abstract is available to you.”  (Effect of screening on ovarian cancer mortality in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian cancer randomized screening trial; #5001, Saturday, June 4, 1:15-2:45 pm, E354a.)

 

He also said that another study by Hans J. Lilja, MD, PhD -- of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Sweden’s Lund University -- on PSA testing would not be discussed because it was presented earlier in the week at the American Urological Association Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.  (Toward a rational strategy for prostate cancer screening based on long-term risk of prostate cancer metastases and death: Data from a large, unscreened, population-based cohort followed for up to 30 years; ASCO abstract #4512, Monday, June 6, 1-4 pm, Hall D1.)

 

Dr. Kris’s announcement was surprising and unexpected especially since discussions with ASCO leadership as recently as the previous day had mentioned the two studies, and both studies were also included in a news release about the press briefing that went out a few hours later.

 

OT called ASCO for additional information regarding the 11th hour change, and learned that the Society had in effect been blindsided.

 

Regarding Dr. Lilja’s prostate cancer study, ASCO decided to pull it from the briefing after finding out that a similar study exploring novel PSA strategies to stratify patients by prostate cancer risk had been reported a few days earlier at the American Urological Association Annual Meeting.

 

According to ASCO the abstract presented at AUA involved data from the same large study as Dr. Lilja’s and so ASCO decided that the data were so similar that the study no longer warranted being placed on ASCO’s press program because it had already been covered and was no longer news: “Sometimes we are not aware that something was presented or highlighted somewhere else, and that was the case when the news hit on Monday.”

 

Dr. Lilja did not respond to a request for an interview before this article was posted.

 

The PLCO study’s withdrawal by Dr. Buys was prompted by a call from the NCI several days before the presscast requesting that she not participate in the briefing, she told OT.

 

“NCI told me that the journal had contacted them and asked that I please not participate, so I’ve been letting NCI define the parameters.”

 

Although no one contacted would confirm the name of the journal that had accepted Dr. Buys’s manuscript for publication, some sources familiar with the matter suggested that it was most likely the Journal of the American Medical Association -- and no one denied it outright, so I called the AMA for clarification of its press policy.

Jann Ingmire, director of media relations for JAMA and the Archives Journals, would not comment about whether Dr. Buys had submitted a manuscript to the journal but did discuss its general journal guidelines regarding JAMA authors speaking with the news media.

 

JAMA is very clear in its instructions for authors,” she said, citing the sections on previous or planned meeting presentation or release of information, and its embargo policy.

 

The key wording is found in this passage:

 

“However, for manuscripts under consideration by JAMA, publication of full reports in proceedings or online, issuing detailed news releases reporting the results of the study, or participation in formal news conferences will jeopardize chances for publication of the submitted manuscript in JAMA. Media coverage of presentations at scientific meetings will not jeopardize consideration, but direct release of information through press releases or news media briefings may preclude consideration by JAMA.”

 

By these standards, Dr. Buys' abstract would not be eligible for an ASCO press briefing, and her withdrawal precluded any possible publication penalties.

 

I called ASCO back and asked about how this situation would have been handled if a researcher was presenting data at a scientific meeting prior to publication in ASCO’s Journal of Clinical Oncology.

 

JCO’s policy regarding author participation in scientific meetings press programs is:

 

“Abstracts for studies that have manuscripts in process with the JCO may be submitted to scientific meetings for presentation prior to the publication date. In these instances, authors may participate in official meeting press events so long as those events are held onsite at the venue and are organized by the meeting itself as opposed to the institution or the sponsor.”

 

However, even JCO’s language is vague because it does not address official press events held offsite, such as ASCO’s presscast, which was not literally onsite at McCormick Place.                       

 

This is probably because the policy was written prior to when medical and professional societies began holding pre-meeting press events, and the point was then moot.

 

Although various peer-review journals may have somewhat similar press policies and embargoes, many also have specific nuances that often make author compliance confusing and very difficult for authors without up-to-date scorecards to navigate the policies set forth by journals and conferences respectively where the same studies are being published or presented.

 

Nearly 20 years ago, Arnold S. Relman, MD, then-editor of the New England Journal of Medicine wrote an editorial (NEJM 1981;305:824-826) in response to criticisms  of “The Ingelfinger Rule,” NEJM’s policy of publishing manuscripts only if their substance had not been submitted or reported elsewhere, to protect the journal from publishing material that was no longer original.

 

He noted that some of these criticisms stemmed from a misunderstanding of the Journal’s policy and how it was implemented, while others reflected disagreement on matters of principle that may not have been adequately explored.

 

“Further explanation seems to be needed to set the record straight, even at the risk of repetition,” he wrote, continuing on, until reaching this paragraph:

 

“We have cautioned would-be Journal authors against holding press conferences because that practice may result in the kind of detailed advance publication that concerns us. Unfortunately, that admonition has led to the misapprehension that any conversation with reporters to clarify what was said at a meeting will disqualify a manuscript. Although the unreviewed and unpublished work presented at scientific meetings is often not a reliable source of information for the public, it is important that reporters who do cover such meetings get their facts straight. The Journal does not object if authors help them, provided that this does not result in the prior publication of the essential substance of a manuscript submitted to us. To avoid misunderstanding, our form letter will henceforth make this point clear.”

 

Now, if only all prospective authors could keep their various journal press policies straight.